Street in Queens.
Seagulls feasting near Times Square.
Greenwich Village looks appealingly Dickensian in the snow.
20 December 2009
Chipotle Grille is a strange place to encounter Tom Waits' 1980 non-hit "Mr Siegal."
"How do the angels get to sleep, when the devil leaves the porchlight on."
One of those disorienting moments when your ability to recognize a tune is at direct odds with its context. The number of times I've heard a Waits' ditty issuing from a source other than my own stereo can be counted on the fingers of a drunken one-armed circus freak. (I'm talking original Waits versions, mind you, not covers by Rod Stewart or Springsteen or Raffi.) Not the first time this sort of thing has happened, of course. I once heard XTC's obscure "Thanks For Christmas" playing in an airport in Flint, Michigan. Granted, not as jarring as a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record spinning at your grandmother's potluck dinner, but unusual enough to take notice.
And then there was the time Kurt Cobain screeched "Rape Me" through the speakers of a family steakhouse while the contented diners calmly poked their meals, unaware of anything out of the ordinary. Could've been Guy Lombardo for all they knew or cared. Kinda takes the sting out of subversion.
19 December 2009
Debussy: Piano Works
Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings
Tom Waits: Blue Valentine
Adrian Belew: Desire Caught by the Tail
Children of Bodom: Hate Crew Deathroll
Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners
Queensryche: Operation Mindcrime
Bonzo Dog Band: Gorilla
Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf
King Crimson: Lizard
Lady Gaga: The Fame
Khachaturian: Gayane Suite
Elliott Smith: Roman Candle
Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man
Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca
Flaming Lips: Embryonic
18 December 2009
17 December 2009
14 December 2009
A fascinating interview with the eminent Orson Welles, filmed in a Paris hotel at the dawn of the sixties.
When asked if his "magnificent organ" (i.e. his voice) was an artistic hindrance because with it he was capable of "conveying emotion without meaning it," a slightly bewildered Welles replies, "Isn't that acting?"
He also describes the Rosebud mystery in Citizen Kane as "a rather tawdry device" of which he's ashamed.
The only part that annoys me is when he claims he could have made better films than Citizen Kane but had never been given another chance. This makes him sound like a spoiled child with the studio system as a big bad parent. Somehow I can't imagine the younger, feistier Welles of the Mercury Theatre making such excuses. But also, because Touch of Evil, while ostensibly "just" a crime thriller, came damn close.
12 December 2009
There were a legion of Santa Clauses down on Sixth Avenue, roaming the streets in packs, chatting in diners over coffee and chicken salad, waiting patiently underground for subway trains, tapping their feet to the delta blues of a busker. One unfortunate Claus, with glasses and dark curly hair tucked under his cap, was being accosted outside a deli by a craggy drunkard in olive green who demanded an explanation.
"What's going on with all you people dressed up like that, standing around doing nothing?"
Santa held back a laugh. "It's called fun, man. Don't you remember fun?"
Evidently he did not.
I wish I'd known about this album when it came out. Its clatter of manhole covers, bicycle spokes, broken clocks, and traffic lights humming in the rain would've been the perfect antidote to the anesthetized eighties where robots served the drinks and the neon furniture was always covered by protective plastic. My nomination for best album of the decade.
09 December 2009
Just reached the end of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. Many of the visuals for me, I found, were hijacked by Robert Altman, who filmed the novel in the seventies, and despite my best efforts I could not shake the image of Sterling Hayden as Roger Wade or the swanky beach house as Wade's residence. Oddly my mental picture of Philip Marlowe was neither Elliott Gould nor Humphrey Bogart, who had played the detective several decades earlier in The Big Sleep. Maybe a little closer to Dick Powell, who donned the P.I.'s trademark smirk for Murder My Sweet.
While Chandler is indisputably the swami of simile, I honestly prefer his forebearer, the highly esteemed Dashiell Hammett, who kicked off the whole noir movement in the first place. The Continental Op, Hammett's usual protagonist, is just a thankless schmo doing his job, without the benefit of Marlowe's macho posturing, which over time would devolve into the insufferable quippage of Bruce Willis and his ilk. The Op bumbles, misjudges, underestimates, overplays, and wins out in the end only due to his dogged persistence, while Marlowe devotes most his time to one-upping everyone he encounters and fending off an endless supply of sultry dames.
Chandler certainly knew how to spin a yarn though, and it's no wonder Hollywood so often came calling. The Big Sleep and Murder My Sweet are unqualifiably two of the best examples of the genre ever put up on the screen.
05 December 2009
Today marks the 25th anniversary of Adrian Belew's ludicrously innovative album Desire Caught By the Tail.
How innovative, you ask? So much so that Island, Belew's record label, took one listen and promptly dropped him from their roster.
Astounding how routinely originality gets overlooked. You'd think with history at our disposal we'd be better equipped to recognize the telltale signs of something new being cooked up in a basement somewhere. Yet we never fail to expect the next "something new" to bear resemblance to the previous "something new." Even if we don't recognize it head-on, we ought to be able to recognize the patterns of outrage it provokes.
Ask Thelonious Monk, forced to sit out the Bop Generation without a cabaret license while others rose to fame playing his compositions. Or Orson Welles, shooting dismal wine commercials to raise petty cash for his stream of unfinished projects. How about Stravinsky, fleeing from the riot his ballet sparked? Not to mention all the countless others I've never heard of because their concoctions went untasted and untested.
Belew's next venture was to be Mr Music Head, a much more accessible (by his standards) album, featuring the radio-friendly "Oh Daddy" which got him onto MTV. Where, as I understand it, every genuine artist dreams of being.
David Byrne & Brian Eno: Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Tom Waits: Glitter & Doom
Lester Young & Teddy Wilson: Pres & Teddy
Bela Bartok: The Miraculous Mandarin
Bad Brains: Rock For Light
Black Flag: In My Head
The Stooges: Fun House
Dio: Holy Diver
Iron Maiden: Powerslave
Opeth: Ghost Reveries
Tom Waits: Bone Machine
Elvis Costello: King of America
Blackalicious: Blazing Arrow
Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat
Thelonious Monk: Criss-Cross
Miles Davis: Porgy & Bess
04 December 2009
With the holiday season approaching, I'm thinking an excellent gift would be a Ronnie James Dio magnetic poetry kit. Hours of fun for the whole clan, surely. Problem is, the availability of words starts slimming down once evil, rainbow, sword, stone, dragon, holy, heaven, and hell are out of the way.
Well, it was a thought. The video for Holy Diver is still among the top ten best music videos ever. Certainly the finest use of a broadsword within the idiom.
03 December 2009
"The world is like a ride in an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it you think it's real because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it's very brightly colored and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time and they begin to question: "Is this real, or is this just a ride?" And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, "Hey, don't worry, don't be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride." And we kill those people." ~ Bill Hicks
"[Warren G. Harding] writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash." ~ H.L. Mencken
I'm a subscriber to the online Diary of Samuel Pepys. The diary of course provides insight into the finer details of everyday life in seventeenth century London and all the usual things for which it has been glorified. But my favorite aspect is that practically every entry prefaces with the word "up" to reassure the reader that the author actually got up that day. How's that for optimism? It's like beginning every journal entry with the affirmation "I'm alive!"
02 December 2009
Finished Genet's first novel, Our Lady of the Flowers. The essential plotlessness became a little tedious as it went on. I realize he wrote this beast in prison and had plenty of time on his hands, but as a creature of liberty I had to prod myself occasionally to stick through to the end. Still, I was much taken with his saturated use of language and color. Like blooddrops on flowers. A real desperate sense of seizing life by the throat, straight from the pen of an outlaw. Occurred to me that Genet is sort of the gay Henry Miller.
As for Sartre's introduction, I read about three paragraphs before abandoning it as hopelessly pedantic. Maybe it's a brilliant analysis, but I sure didn't want to be the one to sit through it.